Shelby Howard Wins Naturally Fresh 250 South Boston, Va.-It's good to be Shelby Howard these days. In the span of the two months, Howard has added a co-owner, sponsor and a key crew member to the already-stout Tony Stewart Racing team. And on ...
Shelby Howard Wins Naturally Fresh 250
South Boston, Va.-It's good to be Shelby Howard these days. In the span of the two months, Howard has added a co-owner, sponsor and a key crew member to the already-stout Tony Stewart Racing team. And on Saturday night at South Boston Speedway, Howard added to his trophy case.
Howard fended off a late-race barrage by Jeff Agnew to win the Naturally Fresh 250 presented by Tri Star Racewear by .346 seconds. The win was Howard's second of the season and his first since partnering with Speedco, Odle Motorsports and new team member Chris Rice, a former crew chief at Kevin Harvick Inc. and Bill Davis Racing.
"We struggled a little bit in the first half of the season," said Howard, driver of the No. 20 Speedco Pontiac. "But in the second half, we've picked up Speedco and [Chris Rice], and Laughlin has been helping us with our chassis quite a bit. The whole team is working great right now, and that's what it takes to win one of these races."
Despite the jelling team, Howard had to overcome an early-race incident that sent him spinning in Turn 3 on Lap 41. The Indiana driver righted the Speedco No. 20 without hitting anything or losing a lap, but the caution didn't wave and Howard found himself nearly a lap down to race leader Jack Bailey. But Howard caught a timely caution on Lap 75, and his team made a gutsy call to short-pit.
"At these little race tracks, with the amount of competition, it's all about track position," said Howard. "You can't afford not to come in as early as possible. It came out in our favor tonight. If it had worked a little differently, it may have worked out for Jeff."
Agnew, who started seventh in the 32-car field, worked his No. 73 Mark IV Honda/Team 7 Pontiac into the lead on Lap 89. But as Agnew paced the field, most of the lead-lap cars, including Howard's, came to pit road under caution.
Agnew finally elected to pit on Lap 140, handing the lead to Howard. Agnew made a late-race scramble to pull into second with nine laps remaining, and the Floyd, Va., driver chased down Howard with five laps remaining. But each time Agnew ducked under the No. 20, Howard was able to pick Agnew on lapped traffic.
"It seemed like every time we went back to green, there was another caution," said Agnew. "We had a great car tonight. We got under the 20 car there in the last few laps, but we just didn't have enough laps. I didn't want to rub him too hard because I didn't want to win like that."
Jay Fogleman, driving the No. 4s Romeo Guest Construction Ford, wasn't quite as kind with Howard's bumper.
Fogleman banged on the rear of the No. 20 on several occasions in the final 20 laps. But each time, Howard managed to fend off Fogleman's charges and hold the lead. As the leaders battled, Agnew tracked down the lead duo and moved past Fogleman with nine laps remaining. Fogleman held on to finish third.
"I thought we had a car that could win, but we were a little bit tight," said Fogleman, who was a last-minute sub for Richard Landreth, who had a death in the family. "On the second set of tires, it was even tighter. I was just trying to get out here with a good finish, because this team doesn't have a lot of cars and they run on a limited budget. They had a good car and a good powerplant in that thing."
A.J. Frank, driver of the No. 11 Schaffer Oil Pontiac, picked up his second top-five finish in as many races by coming home fourth.
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72 JEGS.com Chevrolet, rounded out the top five.
While many drivers enjoyed great nights in the Naturally Fresh 250, Benny Gordon posted his second sub-par finish in as many races.
Despite clinching the Northern Division title and his seventh pole of the season, Gordon's night started going bad just 30 laps into the event. Jack Bailey, driver of the No. 93 Ferguson Waterworks Ford, tracked Gordon down and gave him a nudge for the top spot on Lap 40. Gordon made a miraculous save, but his car grew ill-handling over the next 30 laps.
After several unscheduled stops, Gordon finished the night in 20th. But even with his disappointing night, Gordon's insurmountable 185-point lead over Agnew with one race remaining allowed him to take his third Northern Division title in a row.
Ken Butler III, driver of the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine, matched his best finish of the season by finishing sixth.
Woody Howard, driver of the No. 55 Dean Motorsports Chevrolet, had an up- and-down night. Howard started 14th, charged to the front, bounced off the wall and eventually finished seventh.
Allen Purkhiser, Rick Markle and Gabi DiCarlo rounded out the top 10.
The Naturally Fresh 250 featured five lead changes among five drivers and was slowed 13 times for 77 laps of caution.
Naturally Fresh 250 Notebook
Gary St. Amant, driver of the No. 72 JEGS.com Chevrolet, has always run up front during his career. But this season, St. Amant has admittedly struggled to run with the leaders. That changed in the Naturally Fresh 250 as St. Amant qualified fourth and chased down Jack Bailey for the lead. It had been a while since St. Amant battled for the lead, and a "new" personality emerged when St. Amant, always known as a clean racer, started gouging up Bailey's bumper.
"It's been so long since I've raced for the lead, and that's not my style," said St. Amant, who posted his third fifth-place finish in the last four races. "I was racing way too hard, and that's not me. It's just totally different to be up there challenging for the lead. Hopefully, I'll get used to that again."
Tired of Being Yellow
A.J. Frank doesn't have a yellow stripe on his bumper and his rookie season was last year. Still, Frank believes other drivers beat on him like he's a rookie, and he's had enough.
"A lot of those guys are still treating me like a rookie out there," said Frank, driver of the No. 11 Schaffer Oil Pontiac. "Tonight, I kind of gave some of that aggression back to some of them guys. Hopefully, they won't rub me raw anymore. All in all, it was good night for this team."
Gabbing it Up
Gabi DiCarlo posted her first top-10 finish in the Hooters Pro Cup Series in the Naturally Fresh 250 at South Boston Speedway. Her career-best finish also netted her first Miller Lite Rookie of the Race Award.
"It was just an awesome night for us," said DiCarlo, driver of the No. 83 Great Clips Ford. "I can't explain how this team feels right now. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys. The last two races we've really been coming together. It just keeps getting better for us, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."
While there were familiar names in the top five at the finish of the Naturally Fresh 250, the rest of the top-15 finishers had several new names thrown in the mix. Ken Butler III matched his season-best finish by coming home sixth; Allen Purkhiser posted his best finish by taking eighth; DiCarlo posted her career-best finish with her 10th-place effort; Rick Markle grabbed his best finish of the season by finishing ninth; and Joe Harrison matched his best effort of the season by coming home 14th.